Archive for Daniel Craig

Skyfall

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by alexlarman

The first thing to say about Sam Mendes’ tremendous Skyfall is that it makes its predecessor in the James Bond series, Quantum Of Solace, look even worse. Whereas the first film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, Casino Royale, was one of the very best Bond films, Quantum was dull, uninspired and gave every indication that Marc Forster didn’t have the first idea how to direct an action sequence or co-ordinate an interesting plot. With further havoc caused by the temporary cessation of MGM, who own the Bond rights, it looked for a while as if Craig’s excellent, engaged interpretation of Bond would, like Timothy Dalton’s, be left at two films, one good and one poor.

Thankfully, all was made right, and the resulting picture is an exhilaratingly brilliant romp that simultaneously furthers everything Casino Royale did right and cleverly redefines James Bond for the 21st century. The plot – a revenge saga, mainly set in London – is beautifully simple, containing no spaceships, world domination or plots to take over oil franchises. Instead, it contains a near laundry list of good things, from one of the best baddies in the series in the shape of Javier Bardem’s blonde, insinuating psychopath with a very personal grudge against Judi Dench’s stalwart but also fragile M, to Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography which makes this not just the best-looking Bond film ever, but also one of his finest works.

A fantastic cast, including everyone from MI6 mandarin Ralph Fiennes to gutsy field agent Naomi Harris, is given a very strong script to work with, which judges the fine line between seriousness and playfulness just right – it’s a good deal less intimidatingly sober than Craig’s previous two films. It isn’t perfect – the climax is somewhat underwhelming after the brilliance of many of the other set-pieces (including an Istanbul set-to and explosive destruction on the London Underground) and a scene in Macau casino involving giant lizards feels like it’s come out of another film – but it proves, inter alia, that a cerebral director like Mendes can make this sort of pulpy fun both serious and seriously entertaining. Expect it to be a massive, massive hit, and don’t bet against many of the same team returning for the next one.

 

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Oscar Hopefuls – 2012

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by alexlarman

So, the film awards season draws near again, kicked off in earnest by the (hopefully) irreverent Ricky Gervais taking the mick out of various celebrities as he hosts the Golden Globes for the third and apparently final time, and ending with the grand dame of them all, the Oscars. As ever, it’s been a funny year for seeing what is on the radar, and what isn’t. The excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Drive haven’t had much of a showing so far, while the mediocre-looking The Descendants has attracted what seems like an undue amount of attention. Indeed, it’s been a year where slight films have prospered, with Woody Allen’s pleasant but unexceptional Midnight In Paris being lauded to the skies, apparently on the grounds it’s better than anything he’s done in years. Well, at least it isn’t Match Point or Cassandra’s Dream.

Anyway I’ve now seen a few of the more obvious hopefuls, and have a few thoughts on each:

The Artist

Apparently the current frontrunner at the Oscars, Michel Hazanavicius’ charming film has attracted much attention because it’s both in black and white, and silent. (Purists might note that it’s also filmed in academy ratio of 1.33:1.) I’d hesitate to call it the epoch-defining classic that some have called it, but it’s undeniably extremely compelling. It retreads the time-honoured story of A Star Is Born, with the difference that the fading actor George Valentin (played, in a star-making turn, by Jean Dujardin) is a thoroughly decent and honourable sort, and that the up-and-coming star, Peppy Miller (the equally charming  Bérénice Bejo) wants nothing more than to do right by the object of her affection. It isn’t as deliriously feelgood as the reviews might suggest, with an air of gentle melancholy being the pervading atmosphere, but it’s a lovely tribute to the good ol’ days of Hollywood, helped by indelible supporting performances by John Goodman (as a cigar-chewing studio head) and James Cromwell (as Dujardin’s loyal chauffeur). And, of course, the dog (Uggy) is excellent.

Girl With A Dragon Tattoo

Early reports indicated that uber-producer Scott Rudin and David Fincher wanted to set up a new franchise with their American (although, crucially, not Americanized) adaptation of Steig Larsson’s best-selling trilogy, but that this franchise would be defiantly R-rated and adult, containing all the charming details that the books are known for, not least anal rape, incest and serial killing. This has been borne out, perhaps rather too well, given the film’s as-yet uncertain box office performance. Its main draw is the astonishing performance by Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the presumably autistic computer hacker who is recruited by disgraced journalist Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to help solve an age-old murder on a Swedish island. Mara, playing down her usual good looks, is appealingly vulnerable at the same time as being tough, and is helped by Fincher’s muscular direction, incorporating his usual touches of jet-black humour; a serial killer, preparing to dispatch his victim, puts on Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ as mood music. Only a rather superfluous globetrotting last act spoils it, but the strengths until then (including a nicely judged performance by Christopher Plummer as the patriarch of a truly rotten family and the stunning credits sequence) are considerable.

War Horse

Or, Spielberg makes a British film. Based on both Michael Morpugo’s novel and, more obviously, the National’s ever-running show, it showcases most of his strengths and most of his weaknesses, often at the same time. As ever with Spielberg, the casting (Cumberbatch, Hiddleston, Mullan, Niels Arestrup) is impeccable, the production values superb and the action scenes brilliantly choreographed and executed. Unfortunately, by choosing to make literal what both the book and play treated at least partly metaphorically, there’s a certain clunkiness, not least in the first act, which plods almost as much as the rejected shire horse that the titular thoroughbred Joey is bought instead of. As he forms a bond with his young owner (Jeremy Irvine, less impressive than some young Spielberg stars), and the wicked landlord (David Thewlis) schemes to evict the family from their cottage, you wonder why on earth the director bothered. As it goes into more episodic territory with the arrival of WWI, it offers tremendous set-pieces and indelible cameos, even as it serves up unlikely plot developments and all the sentiment you’d expect from a collaboration with Richard Curtis. Still very worth seeing, mind.

 

Summer blockbusters round-up

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by alexlarman

I’ve got nothing against a big, expensive, loud summer blockbuster, even if they do predominantly seem to be American. There’s the odd Luc Besson monolith from France (though they’re normally made in English), the Harry Potter and Bond films have at least some British DNA, and there are occasional high-profile releases from the Far East and Russian. Yet it’s pretty much a given that most of the films that clutter up the multiplexes between June and September will be Hollywood product, sometimes with big stars, sometimes with virtual unknowns, but with lots of explosions, special effects and shouting.

This year (as well as last) seems to be especially poor. There were several released (Transformers 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, The Hangover part 2) which I avoided because of the deafening clamour of hostility that greeted their expensive arrival in cinemas. It hasn’t been all bad – Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class was very strong and, despite the irrelevant 3D, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows pt 2 was probably the most purely enjoyable of the series – but it’s been more than a little disappointing. However, having had the chance to see Cowboys & Aliens, Captain America and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in quick succession, I feel that I’ve got more of a chance to offer some thoughts.

Cowboys & Aliens was thought by many people, myself included, to be some sort of wacky comedy when it was first announced. It’s not. Instead, Jon Favreau’s film errs on the side of seriousness and solemnity, perhaps unnecessarily so. Beginning with an atmospheric opening in which cowboy Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakes outside a small town with amnesia, only to find himself wanted by both the law and local cattle baron Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), it loses interest more or less as soon as the generic aliens appear. It would have been vastly more interesting played as a period film noir. Craig and Ford do what’s expected of them and not much more, Olivia Wilde is serviceable enough as the mysterious woman who forms an attachment with Craig, there are some occasional moments of fun provided by a supporting cast including Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, and the ending is the usual overstuffed series of explosions. Mildly rather than catastrophically disappointing.

Altogether worse is the latest entry in the Planet of the Apes series, ‘Rise Of The…’ Beginning with a fairly interesting premise – the ape, Caesar (played in motion capture by Andy Serkis, the go-to guy for this sort of thing) is the most sympathetic and interesting character on screen – it falls down thanks to an appalling script, terrible acting from a cast who should know better (James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox), uncertain direction from The Escapist’s Rupert Wyatt, who seems torn between making a Frankenstein-esque study of man’s creation gaining sentience or a conventional blockbuster in which MONKEYS BLOW STUFF UP GOOD and moments of unintentional hilarity that undermine any serious purpose. Bizarrely some people seem to be acclaiming it as some sort of high watermark in the series, but these people might have become over-excited by the free bar before the screening.

If you’re looking for something superior, try the latest in the Marvel series,Captain America (portentously subtitled ‘The First Avenger’). Nobody’s ever going to mistake the story of how weakling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is transformed into a super-soldier and wages war against the dastardly Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) for high art, and it too suffers from the usual final act silliness and vapidity, as well as next to no sense of period. However, it scores points for an unusually talented supporting cast (Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell and Toby Jones) who manage to breathe life into characters that might have seemed flat on the page, some excellent one liners (apparently courtesy of a script polish from Joss Whedon) and boisterous direction from Joe Johnstone. For an unpretentious evening out, you could do far, far worse.